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The Guild strikes back after "impasse"

The Providence Newspaper Guild has gone on the offensive, filing nine unfair labor practice charges against the Providence Journal after management refused to return to the negotiating table following the Guild’s recent rejection of a contract offer.

Management’s stance and the union’s new unfair-labor allegations, unveiled Monday, July 7, represent a return to the pitched warfare that has characterized relations between the two sides since the Guild’s last contract expired in early 2000. Rather than threatening a strike – a situation that led Baltimore Sun employees to grudgingly accept a contract last month – the PNG leadership has embraced a more flexible and patient strategy.

"Such deadlines work more against the union than they do against the employer," says Guild administrator Tim Schick. "That is the unfortunate lesson that had not been learned in Baltimore – you can never fight the same war twice." An attrition strategy could have been far more successful, he says, since the Tribune Company was shelling out big bucks to put up potential replacement workers.

In the first vote on a new contract since 2000, Guild members voted last month, 160-109, to reject the ProJo’s offer. After the union expressed interest in renewing negotiations, Thomas J. McDonough, the Journal’s human resources director, in a letter dated June 25, wrote that management’s "entire offer for a new contract . . . was final, including but not limited to" three sticking points cited by the Guild.

Schick says management never cited its bargaining position as final, and he describes the characterization as contrary to the spirit of the months of off-the-record talks that preceded the contract offer. "It’s like they’ve completely abandoned what we were trying to accomplish through the off-the-record talks – to constructively work through our differences," he says. "It just means at the moment that Journal management has dug in its heels and we think they need a little prodding."

McDonough and Journal publisher Howard Sutton didn’t return calls seeking comment.

In a statement, the Guild alleges that the Journal violated labor law "in its heavy-handed lobbying of employees before a recent contract vote and in its refusal to return to the bargaining table after the contract was defeated." As noted in the release, the National Labor Relations Board has already convicted the ProJo of 27 unfair labor practice charges.

In an article on the Guild’s Web site, www.riguild.org, the union says, "The Guild leadership is not surprised by the company’s response, nor deeply worried about it. We expected the company to punish us for the ‘no’ vote and to try to make us sweat. (Our brows remain dry.)"

In response to the renewed stalemate, the Guild has resumed holding occasional demonstrations outside the Journal’s Fountain Street headquarters and renewed preparations for a possible circulation boycott.

Issue Date: July 11 - 17, 2003
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